Martial Melodies

Martial Melodies

Did you ever wonder why systems of fighting are named Martial Arts? The Martial part is obvious. Where does the term Art fit in to throwing a punch or swinging a sword?  When I first asked about this I got the answer that it was the Kata’s or Forms that we practiced that made it an art.  The interesting part about this was that the inference was that it was that way because we didn’t really use those movements in actual fighting they were just art.  Kind of like doing a dance.  So even though you were repeating in rote fashion the same set of movements that everyone else was doing, this was supposed to be art.  Don’t get me started on how ignorant the claim is that you are practicing movements over and over that you will never use.  Well I covered that in my blog “The naughty word, Kata”.  As well as being a Martial Artist I am also a musician.  Well as it turns out Martial Arts are a lot like Jazz.  That may seem like a weird statement but it is very, very true.


The first similarity is that they are both a practice.  You cannot decide that you want to be a Jazz musician one day and just sit down and start playing. No there are many things that you must learn, commit to memory both physical (muscle) and mental, make a part of yourself, and in order to accomplish this you have to spend hours and hours of practice.


To begin with the Jazz musician starts by learning the notes.  The notes are the martial equivalent to individual techniques.  These are the root or the foundation of your music.  Then the musician starts to learn scales.  There are many scales to learn, each with their own unique sequences.   They are sequences of notes that make musical sense.  Then they move on to chords which are groupings of notes that work with each other.  Scale and chords the equivalent of the Martial Artists Kata’s or set movements.


At this point do you think that the Jazz musician can meet up with a band and just start playing?  No of course not, they only know the basics and do not yet know how to put them together to actually form music.  So what of the Martial artist? If we put them directly in a ring at this point are they likely to come out the champion?  No, not likely.  This is because even though they know the basic punches and kicks and can even string some them together in a mechanical like form they are still lacking an important ingredient.


The musician needs to learn some music theory and something about harmony in order to know how to apply the scales and chords that he has learned.  This knowledge gives him the ability or strategy to know when, where, how long, what tempo, and what sequence to use in response to what all the other musicians are playing.  Lastly once he gains this knowledge he must PLAY!  He has to play and play often with many different styles of musicians.  Once he does this he can improvise and play at will whatever sound or melody is needed at that very moment.  You see in order to play Jazz you have to be able to improvise on the spot responding directly to all the other notes and melodies that the other musicians are playing and improvising at the same time.


This last part is what most Martial Artist do not understand.  You have to understand martial theory and philosophy to know how to improvise.  This is because improvisation is why it is called a (Martial ) ART in the first place.  When the time comes for you to fight you cannot start running through one of your Kata’s in response to the attack.  You cannot just respond to an attack with some preset response that you have learned.  You have to be able to use the right technique at the right time in response to the free flowing (just like jazz) unpredictable attacks your enemy throws at you.  It is an Art because it is an expression of YOU, your expression of what you have learned!  It cannot be fixed or static. Fighting is improvising in the midst of the chaos of the battle.  Defending against an unknown barrage of attacks and delving out your own attacks simultaneously. You do not know what techniques your opponent is going to use or in what sequence.  So you need to be able to change and improvise your attacks and defenses as that chaos is happening.   That is why the great Bruce Lee said that the martial artist should be like water.  Water can flow easily around and obstruction.  It is soft an pliable when needed.  But when water is focused it can crush boulders.


So in your Martial Arts practice learn strategy, martial philosophy, and martial improvisation and practice integrating it when you fight.  You must practice fighting as close as possible to the real thing and do it often. If you want to defeat your opponent be like water, be like Jazz!

3 thoughts on “Martial Melodies

    1. I think most people, as did I at first, put to much emphasis on learning the next technique rather than taking the time to understand the principals behind what makes the current techique work. Once you understand the principals you can appapply them in any situation. No individual technique will work in that way.

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